Long Beach Preview

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For the first time this season, the NTT IndyCar Series has races on back-to-back weekends. Just a few days ago, the series was set up in the deep south in Birmingham, Alabama. Just like that, they picked up and moved everything to the west coast and set it all up again to be ready to go for the first practice later this morning.

Each time I go to a race in person, I’m reminded of all of the logistics it takes to move the series into a venue and get it all set up. There are things that most of us don’t think of – like the driver introduction stage, the miles and miles of TV cabling and satellite communication equipment, the team hospitality vehicles and tents that have to be broken down, stored and reassembled at the next venue and of course, the cars and all of the equipment that goes with them.

Then there’s housing and feeding the personnel. I mentioned last week that while at Barber, we stayed at the same hotel as the Dale Coyne team. Even if the team members double and share a room, there is an enormous cost of flying the team and providing lodging, meals and rental cars. No wonder this is an expensive sport! But tearing down and setting up in just a few days a couple of thousand miles to the west is apparently no big deal.

The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is considered one of the crown jewels on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule. It is also the second longest consecutively running race on the schedule – second only to the Indianapolis 500. The event itself started in 1975 as a Formula 5000 race won by Brian Redman. The following year, it was a stop on the Formula One circuit – and it stayed that way through 1983. In 1984, CART began running the streets of Long Beach, and the Indy cars have been running there ever since.

Mario Andretti has won this race four times. His son, Michael, won it twice. Like Mario, Paul Tracy has won it four times – including his first career win in 1993. There will be two multiple winners in Sunday’s race – Sébastien Bourdais, who won it three times; and Will Power who has won at Long Beach twice. Bourdais was also the last person to win the race in back-to-back years. Of course, the King of the Beach is Al Unser, Jr., who will be helping on the Harding Steinbrenner entry driven by rookie Colton Herta.

The biggest change in this event this year is the title sponsor. Toyota had been the title sponsor of the Grand Prix of Long Beach since 1980. But they announced in the offseason that they were ending their partnership. That cleared the way for the Acura brand. It makes sense. IMSA is running this event this weekend as well, and they are the engine supplier for Team Penske in the sports cars. Plus, with Honda being such a strong supporter of the NTT IndyCar Series and Honda Performance Development is based in nearby Santa Clarita.

There will be some different liveries this weekend. Jack Harvey will be in the same SiriusXM car, but will have signage from Acura in various spots on the car. It will be the first time that a car has carried Acura branding in an IndyCar race since 1994, when Parker Johnstone did while driving for Comptech.

While Harvey’s is a minor change, there are others more drastic. Patricio O’Ward will be carrying sponsorship from GESS – the same group that sponsored Colton Herta at Barber. Herta will be carrying King Taco on his sidepods at Long Beach. Graham Rahal will be in the Total car. Two of the three Penske cars will be carrying a different look from last week. Josef Newgarden goes from the black with green trim Fitzgerald Glider Kits car, to the more familiar black and white Hitachi car. For the first time this season, Simon Pagenaud abandons the colorful Menard’s livery, to the drab and colorless DXC Technology car. I’ve seen this car in person. Its black and chrome may have looked good in the designers mind or on the computer screen, but it lost something when it got on the car. It’s just a little…boring.

With Newgarden finishing fourth last week at Barber; and Scott Dixon finishing second (again) – they are the usual players are atop the point standings. But with Takuma Sato’s win last week, he has vaulted up to third in the standings. Alexander Rossi, Herta and Bourdais make up the final half of the Top Six. Rossi has been good but not great, while Herta came back down to earth at Barber after his win two weeks earlier at COTA. After a disastrous start to the season at St. Petersburg, Bourdais has rebounded nicely in his last two starts. He finished fifth at COTA and third at Barber.

This track can produce some unexpected winners. Ryan Hunter-Reay was on a week-to-week contract with Andretti Autosport when he won at Long Beach in 2010. He parlayed that win into a full-time ride that propelled him to a championship season in 2012 and an Indianapolis 500 win in 2014. He still has that seat today.

Mike Conway won for Andretti in 2011 and again with Ed Carpenter in 2014. Takuma Sato earned his first IndyCar victory at Long Beach in 2013, driving for AJ Foyt. I’m not sure if it should be labeled a surprise, but James Hinchcliffe had a rather unexpected win at Long Beach in 2017. Alexander Rossi was certainly no surprise when he won there last year.

Last year, Long Beach fell before Barber. In fact, it has been that way for the past few years. Personally, I hope it goes back to that because with Barber being so early this year, spring had not yet shown up this year. I suppose having a late Easter is the reason. That may also be the cause of the late April glut with no racing. I’m not sure if you’ve looked at the schedule or not, but this weekend’s race is the last IndyCar race until the IndyCar Grand Prix at IMS on May 11. That’s one day shy of four weeks. Again, let’s hope this odd April schedule is a one-time deal.

So who will take the win at Long Beach this weekend? I’m guessing that Alexander Rossi wakes up and goes from good to great. He dominated this track a year ago and I’m predicting that he is standing atop the podium on Sunday afternoon, making him the first back-to-back winner at Long Beach since Sébastien Bourdais accomplished that feat in 2006-07. We’ll see.

George Phillips

8 Responses to “Long Beach Preview”

  1. To be honest, other than the silver Verizon and neon Menards liveries, most of Penske’s liveries are pretty boring in my opinion.

    I have a feeling Frosenqvist may snag his first win here, he’s quite familiar with tight, twisty street courses after his Formula E stint.

    • I’ll agree with that, but you’ve got to love Helio’s throwback Pennzoil livery and I also liked his AAA royal blue scheme. I also liked Montoya’s Hawk livery. And I’m not much of a fan of the silver Verizon package. It lacks something, but I can’t put mu finger on it. But I do like Newgarden’s PPG Finishes look and the Fitzgerald scheme he sported at Barber. – GP

      • Forgot about the Pennzoil one, that one’s great. I don’t hate the AAA one but don’t love it either. Don’t really care for the Hawk or either of those Newgarden liveries, for some reason they strike me more as a giant billboard than a race car livery. Even though the silver Verizon is a bit plain I’ve always kinda liked it, sometimes subtle can be good.

  2. George, I have to tell you, I saw the update about IMS switching soda companies and I immediately thought “oh man, George won’t like this”. Sure enough your Tweet was right below that! Not a Pepsi fan myself, I view Coke as more of a drink for a classic event like the Indianapolis 500 deserves! Give it a chance, you might like it with your tenderloin!

    • You are correct. I was not happy at all to see that. I grew up on Coke. Pepsi makes me gag. Plus, the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant was at one time in the Hulman & Co. portfolio. Change is bad!

  3. so they move Barber up to an earlier and less attractive date, have Long Beach go up against The Master’s and yet have several empty weekends until Indy?

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